Donington Park, 17/18 June 2006
Having missed the double header meeting at Mallory Park we were most keen to get our season back on track at Donington Park. The kappa had been back to Auto Integrale for some minor fettling, including welding up the cam cover and replacing the steering rod ends which were showing some play. There was also an attempt to rethink the breather system, for some reason the engine is throwing out far too much oil through the breather system, filling the catch tank all too quickly, and then of course spraying any excess under the car. Where this might keep rust at bay, it also tends to spray the nearside rear wheel - a possible answer to why the kappa has been a little more wayward this year than in previous seasons.
A phone call to Dunlop also elicited some useful guidance on suspension settings. This year we are using 2005-spec ex-BTCC tyres and these plainly don't behave the same as the previous tyres we used last year. The kappa just has not been working the rears with the result they get very little heat in them. Keith at Auto Integrale made the necessary geometry changes, alas as usual there was no opportunity to test before the meeting at Donington Park.
Hot and sunny weather on Saturday morning meant we knew we were in for a warm time. Out first in qualifying meant the track would be clean, but at least there would be no delays. Even scrutineering was a breeze with the ticket having been awarded by 7:40am - although the kappa then shamed itself by not starting, the battery appeared to be flat. A quick jump start later and she was up and running again, although the battery appears to be less than 100%, we really must change it for the next meeting (and check over the alternator again!).
Others had not been so lucky. Alex Schooledge's Vectra just doesn't like him (we came to the same conclusion as regards our Y10), today's malady was a faulty master cut-out switch. Then when given the opportunity to qualify and fix the switch later, the Vectra decided not to start up at all. Simon had just finished the reshell of his Nova on the Friday evening, and then realised he had not fitted the harness - it was back home. A call to a friend meant a trip down to Donington via Demon Tweeks with a nice new harness - Pongo went out for a couple of laps before lunch and was allowed to play.
So only 11 of us made qualifying, and although lined up in the assembly area in plenty of time (day was going well, I clipped the gate on the way in!), I was near the back of the queue. It didn't take long at all for the pack to spread out. I was still warming up the tyres and relearning the circuit, didn't have a clue what gear the kappa would be in for most of the corners. I did find that the new settings seemed to be working well, the kappa felt very stable and was taking Craner Curves foot to the floor in 5th. It took a while but I managed to get past Stuart Jefcoate's Porsche 911, although I seemed to make up more ground under braking than anywhere else on circuit. But other than meeting up with John Hammersley on a slow lap to cool the brakes (he later blasted by into Redgate and was soon long gone) and Richard Hawken's ailing Primera (running on three), it was a lonely session and hard to judge how it was going.
So you can imagine our disappointment when we got the times in, 9th from 11 wasn't to clever even if the kappa has only finished 2nd or 9th in any race this season! We know it has the beating of the Tomcats and Integras on circuits we like, so plainly being 1.5 seconds adrift of Jason's Tomcat points the finger at the driver - ouch! There was hope that being in a gaggle of cars, Stuart and Jim were just behind, Ian Craig, Nigel Ainge and Jason were that bit in front, would make for some exciting racing and the faster cars would push my lap times in.
Richard Hawken's Primera was still running on three and so was withdrawn, Alex's Vectra wouldn't start so didn't make it out either. With Simon Jackson starting at the back in the Nova, we were 11 again. The rolling lap was going quite quickly, Jim Mepham alongside me on the grid (but in 10th) lagged behind all the way round until we reached the chicane and then suddenly speeded up so as not to be left behind on the straight. I responded, came out of the chicane on full throttle and the lights were out. Excellent - I just kept my foot it, held of Jim and then drove between Nigel Ainge's Integra and Ian Craig's BMW M3 (the row in front). I made the mistake of then going round the outside of Redgate rather than trying to cut inside Matt Hales' Vectra, but I wasn't sure I'd cleared the M3. Ian came round the inside and got his nose in front, but as we hit the top of Craner Curves I was able to get the power down and make the move stick. Got alongside Matt but had to concede at the bottom of Craner, chasing hard up through the next section. Out of Coppice and I attempted to pass Matt down the straight, he moved inside leaving me to go outside, and although I got past, it wasn't enough, Matt got through the chicane first. Chased him round for another lap, was just that bit closer coming out of Coppice and this time was able to pass on the inside and take the position before the chicane.
Not that Matt was giving it up lightly. He spent the next few laps right on my bumper, usually less than a second and often more like half a second between us. I was watching behind hoping Ian Craig would catch back up with Matt and distract him, but after 4 laps Ian was parked up with gear linkage problems. I pulled the gap out to a just over a second as Matt slowed when Ian pulled off, but by lap eight the gap was less than 4/10ths. I'd been trying to catch Jason Holmes' Tomcat in front, but by the time I'd got past Matt, Jason was 4 seconds clear in 4th place and while Matt was giving me a hard time, Jason was taking a tenth here, a couple of tenths there and extended the gap to 5 seconds.
Nigel Ainge was back on the case and closing on Matt, on lap 9 he got by. No breathing space for me, Nigel was on a mission and gave me an even harder time that Matt had done. We upped the pace, and as we did so, so the gap to Jason started coming down. Any mistake I made was being punished by Nigel, a lock up into the chicane meant he nearly caught me going into Redgate one lap. I spent 5 laps in front of Nigel, the gap never more than 3/10th. By lap 13 the gap to Jason was down to 1.6 seconds, I could see he was having braking problems as that was where I was gaining on him. Nigel and I turned in our fastest laps of the race so far, with mine just 9/1000ths the faster. A flying run down Craner Curves on lap 14 pulled me right in close, but I overdid it turning into Old Hairpin and exited the corner on the grass. I kept my foot flat to the floor and rejoined the track still in front of Nigel. By the end of the lap the gap to Jason was down to 1.3 seconds, it was just a matter of time now. Nigel and I both set our fastest lap of the race that lap (despite my excursion across the grass), again I profited by just 16/1000ths.
Going into Old Hairpin I was closer to Jason still, but I hadn't learned my lesson. In too hot, out too wide, even more grass this time and didn't rejoin the track until going across the kerb at the flat left hander (Schwantz?). Nigel got through - his turn to hunt Jason down. At the end of the lap the last lap board was shown - so now it was all or nothing to get back that 5th place, and maybe even 4th. I kept it tidy this time but coming into McLeans right on Nigel's bumper, the kappa didn't turn and nearly went off. The noise had me thinking "puncture" but as I drove up towards Coppice slowly (Matt went past) dirty water started squirting across the windscreen. I cut the engine out of Coppice, smoke pouring out from under the bonnet, and the kappa rolled all the way down to the entrance to the chicane. And stopped. I tried to restart, the finish line was just round the corner, surely the kappa could limp that far - but no, the noise told me it was not going to happen. After all that, a disappointing DNF.
Nigel almost caught Jason on the line, and up front John Hammersley held off Tony Soper by just a second to extend his championship lead further.
For us, we don't know. The kappa needs to go back to Auto Integrale, that won't happen until next weekend. Only when the engine is investigated will we know when we can come out next.
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